The holidays is a time when many families or friends gather to celebrate the closing of yet another year, but while these times can be very warm and memorable they are also the times when we feel that loss the most. That loss and the grieving process itself is one of the most complex emotions humans can work through, and we’ve come up with many ways to try and make sense of it. For instance, we all may have heard of the stages of grief and how you move through them to eventually land at acceptance. In truth though, grief is more complicated than those stages make it seem. People often move through those stages in different orders, linger in them for different times, or return to older ones entirely. It’s important to remember that just as grief itself comes and goes in waves of intensity, so too do our emotions and thoughts on grief change over time. One of the many ways we can live with grief is by finding meaning in it and what we are left with.
Finding meaning in loss can take many different forms and can mean different things to different people. No two people find the same meaning in grief, nor is the process identical across people. But what is important is figuring out your meaning and what you derive from it’s loss. What’s discussed here are simply ideas about how one might find meaning after a loss, but it doesn’t have to be how you or someone you know does it.
When someone first begins processing grief or mourning, they might struggle to find any sort of meaning in the pain. However, a phrase that people might have heard many times over is that “Grief is love continuing on”, which is one of the more common ways to reframe and begin to find meaning in the pain of loss. Through this perspective, the hurt we feel is the continuation of the love we held, and the pain of loss can stem from an inability to act on that love or express it, or receive it in turn from those who have passed. If we work with that understanding, then a way to find meaning in that grief, in that continuing love, might be finding a way to re-engage with the love and memory of the one you lost.
Finding meaning in grief can be, for example, enjoying activities you once did together with new people. Sharing the experience can keep the feeling of the love you had for those that passed on fresh, and in the long term offer the same experiences you’ve cherished to others. The ache of loss can be turned slowly into a continuation of what was important to them and yourself, and with more people celebrating it as you did, that grief can be soothed by new experiences. Practicing this is, in essence, making new memories in the memory of those we lost. These new experiences and memories are not meant to replace what you experienced or the loss you have felt, but instead to give that love a chance to express itself anew. For example, if this holiday season a loved one who passed away used to bring a certain kind of chocolate to a get-together, perhaps you might take it upon yourself to bring the chocolate yourself. In doing so, you and everyone there has a chance to reminisce about the lost individual and form new memories around the chocolate you brought. In expressing that love, in engaging with experiences that were important to you and the one who has passed, you may receive something like the love you got in turn as well.
Even with these ideas, it’s likely these may not have resonated with everyone – or they may seem superficial or unlike what someone’s own grief experiences were. To that end, grief counseling can help find your individual meaning in your loss. Exploring it in a safe environment, with genuine human empathy, and a chance to form your own conclusions about that loss are as important as processing the emotional response from it all.
By Jessica Seney, MHC intern